Near Manchester, Bennett V. Bray Jr. and his wife, Barbara, are digging up part of the lawn on their 9-acre property to plant water gardens and shrubs for the wild animals who share their land.
In the Lake Walker neighborhood of Baltimore, Alison Gillespie gets excited when she sees worms, bees, butterflies and birds in her "tiniest back yard imaginable" behind a city rowhouse.
In Annapolis, organic gardener Jo Ann Alspaw shares the fruit she grows on her one-third-acre lot near Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium with birds. In turn, they eat bugs and leave droppings for fertilizer.
All over the state, in small rowhouse yards and expansive suburban lawns, a growing number of people are creating backyard nature preserves, plots they hope will help restore wildlife habitat to some of the 1.5 million acres the United States loses annually to development.
"Some people have been doing this for a long time. But I think there's an urgency now because we're coming to realize that development is destroying so much wildlife habitat," said Thomas D. Patrick, president of the nonprofit Windstar Wildlife Institute. He has spent nine years developing a 29-acre demonstration wildlife habitat near Jefferson, in Frederick County.
Other agencies also help people make their land suitable for wildlife.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has registered more than 3,500 backyard habitats in its 7-year-old Wild Acres program.
"We're finding it hard to meet the demand," said Dana Limpert, a program biologist. "There are a tremendous number of people out there interested."
The National Wildlife Federation, which has certified habitats ranging from an apartment balcony to a 6,500-acre forest, registered its 20,000th backyard wildlife habitat, 4 acres at a Ronald McDonald House in downtown Cleveland, Aug. 18.
Bray, Alspaw and Gillespie were among 28 Marylanders selected from 125 applicants for a three-day, grant-financed program offered in the spring by Windstar. They learned how to meet the four basic needs of wildlife -- food, water, cover and space -- and how to encourage others to create habitats.
Although interest in wildlife habitats is growing, the suburban standard is still a house perched on a carpet of fast-growing fescue.
"If you have a perfectly manicured lawn and a few trees, a lot of people like that. You're certainly not going to have any wildlife problems," said Jonathan S. Kays, a Cooperative Extension Service natural resources specialist.
Some animal species have dwindled or disappeared, but others have adapted to subdivision living. Canada geese, deer, raccoons, rabbits and squirrels set up housekeeping in parks or yards.
Pub Date: 8/31/97